Nebraska vs. Virginia Tech Game Preview

The undefeated Huskers get their first big test of the year as they travel to Blacksburg to play the top 15 Virginia Tech Hokies. Check out our breakdown of the game and see if we have Nebraska coming out on top.

Vince Campisi's College Football Game Preview
Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Virginia Tech Hokies

--by Vince Campis

September 19th, 2009
3:30 PM ET
Blacksburg, VA
Television Coverage: ABC/ESPN2

#18/19 NEBRASKA (2 - 0) (0 - 0)
#13/#14 VIRGINIA TECH (1 - 1) (0 - 0)

Gametime Weather
Weather Report for Nebraska vs. Virginia Tech

Latest Line
Virginia Tech by 5.

Virginia Tech
09/05/09 - vs. Alabama* - L 24-34
09/12/09 - vs. Marshall - W 52-10
09/19/09 - vs. Nebraska
09/26/09 - vs. Miami (FL)
10/03/09 - at. Duke
10/10/09 - vs. Boston College
10/17/09 - at. Georgia Tech
10/29/09 - vs. North Carolina
11/05/09 - at. East Carolina
11/14/09 - at. Maryland
11/21/09 - vs. North Carolina State
11/28/09 - at. Virginia
* - Game played at Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA

09/05/09 - vs. Florida Atlantic - W 49-3
09/12/09 - vs. Arkansas State - W 38-9
09/19/09 - at. Virginia Tech
09/26/09 - vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
10/08/09 - at. Missouri
10/17/09 - vs. Texas Tech
10/24/09 - vs. Iowa State
10/31/09 - at. Baylor
11/07/09 - vs. Oklahoma
11/14/09 - at. Kansas
11/21/09 - vs. Kansas State
11/27/09 - at. Colorado

Player Breakdowns

Virginia Tech Offense

Virginia Tech's offense is led by their strong ground game.  Their passing game has been quite meager in the first two games of the season.  The Hokies are currently ranked 62nd nationally in total offense (380 ypg), 115th in passing (126 ypg), 89th in passing efficiency (112.27 rating), 13th in rushing (254 ypg), 22nd in scoring offense (38 ppg), 22nd in interceptions thrown (1), 53rd in fumbles lost (2), and 42nd in giveaways (3).  

QB: Jr. Tyrod Taylor (18 of 36, 252 yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT) is in his first season as the full-time starter, and hoping to stay healthy for a full season.  He has been described as an athlete playing the quarterback position for the past couple of seasons, and this year the Hokie offense hoped to show that Taylor had become a satisfactory passer as well.  Through two games, he hasn't yet put the questions about his arm to rest.  Against Alabama, Taylor was abysmal, completing fewer than 50% of his throws.  Some of the credit for that has to be given to the Alabama defense for getting a lot of pressure on him, but even when he had time, he didn't look comfortable throwing downfield.  He has questionable downfield vision, relying on his athleticism instead of trusting his arm to make throws.  On occasion, however, he will throw a few nice passes, sometimes to covered receivers.  Taylor is known for being a dangerous, slippery runner much more than he is for anything with his arm.  He has rushed for 98 yards on 17 attempts when he gets beyond the line of scrimmage with a long of 46, but he has just 32 net yards after you take away tackles for loss.  He's fairly small, standing between 6' and 6'1".  He easily slips by potential tacklers to buy himself more time in the pocket or to run downfield.  If he ever developed a great arm, his elusiveness would provide a killer asset in the Hokie passing game.  Behind Taylor is RFr. Ju-Ju Clayton (0 of 3, 0 yds).  Clayton saw his first game action last week against Marshall, and did not complete a pass.  He had a good fall camp, but has yet to show anything in a real game.

RB: Virginia Tech took a big hit before the season started when So. Darren Evans went down with a knee injury and was lost for the season.  However, even though the Hokies lost their top back, a group of young backs have emerged and it appears that the loss is not as great as figured to be a few weeks ago.  RFr. Ryan Williams (29 carries, 235 yds, 5 TDs) is one of those youngsters that has stepped up to the big time.  He is a speedster and has all the tools to make you miss.  He has made defenders look silly using his spin move, and shakes away arm tackles very easily.  He is going to be a workhorse for the Hokies for years to come.  The Hokies also have two other good quality backs that will be sharing carries with Williams.  Both So. Josh Oglesby (18 carries, 76 yds) and TFr. David Wilson (12 carries, 165 yds, 1 TD) have shown flashes in their carries this season.  Wilson has displayed track-like speed in his rushes, looking like he was on a totally different level against the likes of Marshall.  Oglesby isn't as fast as Williams and Wilson, but he is a capable runner that is patient in following his blocks.  The backs weren't utilized much last year in the passing game, but have been a favored target this season.  Williams (3 catches, 78 yds) and Oglesby (3 catches, 20 yds) have each caught a few passes, with Williams being the most explosive after getting the ball (43 yard long).  At FB, Sr. Kenny Jefferson starts, with Jr. Kenny Younger backing him up.  The Hokies don't use their fullbacks much to touch the ball, being used primarily as lead blockers when they are in the game.

WR/TE: The Hokies' receiving corps has not been very impressive this season, but some of that is due to who is throwing the football to them.  They had trouble finding ways to get open against Alabama's defense, and weren't needed much against Marshall last week as the run game was on fire.  Starting at split end is RFr. Xavier Boyce (2 catches, 13 yds, 1 TD).  Boyce has the best size of any of Virginia Tech's receivers at 6'4", and has a lot of potential to be a good receiver.  Since QB Tyrod Taylor hasn't thrown the ball particularly well, it has been difficult for him to show his talent.  Behind Boyce is So. Jarrett Boykin (5 catches, 51 yds), RFr. Marcus Davis, and Sr. Brandon Dillard.  Boykin has great hands and jumping ability.  He does a nice job of eluding tacklers, and seems to find ways to wiggle for extra yards while being tackled.  He leads the team in receptions with 5, and was the top receiver, yards wise, last season (441).  Starting at flanker is So. Danny Coale (3 catches, 59 yds), with So. Dyrell Roberts (2 catches, 31 yds) also sees a number of plays in his reserve role.  Coale is a solid receiver, has very good hands, and led the team in receptions as a freshman last season (36).  Roberts has looked good in his limited opportunities, and also puts in a lot of special teams work.  Other reserves at flanker include So. Patrick Terry and TFr. D.J. Coles.  At tight end are Sr. Greg Boone and Jr. Andre Smith.  Boone has yet to play this season, as he has been recovering from injury.  He is probable for Saturday's game, and if he does play, will be a nice bonus for the Hokies since none of the other tight ends have caught a pass in his absence.  Sr. Sam Wheeler is another tight end that will be seen, and was able to get a lot of playing time while Boone was out with injury.  Wheeler is probably the best run blocking tight end of the group.  

OL: Virginia Tech's offensive line has been decent this season, looking fair against Alabama and great against an overmatched Marshall squad.  Quite a few of the players in this two deep are converted tight ends, and are more athletic than they are big, power blockers.  Starting at tackle is Sr. Ed Wang (6'5", 309 lbs) on the left and So. Blake DeChristopher (6'5", 313 lbs) on the right.  Wang has not been impressive in pass protection this season, but has been pretty solid as a run blocker.  DeChristopher is still young, despite entering his second season as full-time starter, but could also be better as a pass blocker.  The top reserves at tackle are RFr. Nick Becton (6'6", 311 lbs) and So. Andrew Lanier (6'5", 279 lbs).  Starting at guard is Sr. Sergio Render (6'3", 313 lbs) on the left and So. Jaymes Brooks (6'2", 300 lbs) on the right.  Render is the best of the bunch, but had his share of troubles against the Alabama front.  He'll face another good group of defensive tackles this week, which will be interesting to watch.  Brooks is another good run blocker that helped open up huge holes against Marshall last week.  Top back-ups at guard are So. Greg Nosal (6'6", 284 lbs) and Sr. Richard Graham (6'6", 306 lbs).  At center is Jr. Beau Warren (6'3", 288 lbs), with RFr. Michael Via (6'7", 284 lbs) backing him up.  Warren is in his first season as a starter, and has done a pretty decent job.  This line, as a whole, is pretty inconsistent.  At times they have looked very good, and other times they look mediocre.

Virginia Tech Defense

Virginia Tech's defense is typically known as one of the nation's best.  Defensive coordinator Bud Foster has built a reputation in Blacksburg that most DC's are envious of.  They haven't been great so far this season, giving up nearly 500 yards against Alabama in the opener, but gave up just half of that against Marshall last week.  The Hokies currently rank 80th nationally in total defense (375 ypg), 43rd in pass defense (178 ypg), 27th in pass efficiency defense (98.73 rating), 101st in rush defense (197 ypg), 66th in scoring defense (22 ppg), 68th in interceptions forced (1), 33rd in fumbles recovered (2), and 69th in total takeaways (3).  

DL: Virginia Tech's defensive line is an experienced one, returning 3 of last year's 4 starters.  They've played pretty well up to this point, but not as well as they were expected to be.  The unit allowed Marshall to average 4.5 yards per rush and 5.5 to Alabama.  This isn't a physically imposing group, instead relying on athleticism and speed to get the job done.  Because of that athleticism, often times they can get pressure on the opposing QB as a defense just rushing their front four.  Starting at defensive end is Jr. Jason Worilds (7 tackles, 1 sack, 7 QBH) at the stud end and Sr. Nekos Brown (8 tackles, 5 QBH) on the right end.  A stud end is a defensive end that plays to the inside of the opposing tackle, playing more on the B gap, rather than the C gap, which is what Brown will be doing on the other side.  Worilds is the star of the unit, picked by many as a first team All-ACC, and a second-team All-American by some others.  He is a beast at getting after the opposing QB.  Brown is the only new starter on the line this year, but played a lot last year and performed well, and rarely misses tackles.  He has been the best of this group against the run.  Top reserves on the ends are Jr. Steven Friday (2 tackles,1.5 sacks, 2 QBH, 1 PBU) and So. Chris Drager (1 tackle).  Friday was the only defensive lineman to record a sack last week against Marshall.  Starting at defensive tackle are Sr. Cordarrow Thompson (3 tackles) at nose and Jr. John Graves (3 tackles, 6 QBH) at the three technique.  Thompson is a powerful lineman that has a nice first step and is quick into the backfield.  Graves has the quickness to play end, but is able to put that to use on the inside as well.  Top back-ups at d-tackle include Sr. Demetrius Taylor (3 tackles) and RFr. Antoine Hopkins (4 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 INT).  
LB: Virginia Tech's linebacking corps is has experience on the outside, but on the inside backer spots are four underclassmen in the two-deep.  It's a pretty talented group, they play very fast and aggressive, but have been giving up some yards both on the ground and through the air.  Starting at whip linebacker is Sr. Cody Grimm (13 tackles, 2 FF, 1 QBH, 2 PBU), with Sr. Cam Martin (8 tackles) backing him up.  In the first two games of the year, Grimm has showcased pretty good closing speed, and also had a nice strip of the ball in the Alabama game.  Martin is a former starter that has been sharing time at Whip with Grimm since last year.  The two inside linebacker starters are So. Barquell Rivers (17 tackles, 1 FR) at MIKE and So. Jake Johnson (20 tackles, 1 PBU) at "Backer".  Rivers is pretty solid against the run, and is one of the harder hitting guys on the defense.  Johnson is also a solid hitter, flies to ball, but isn't always in the right position.  That'll change as he gets more experience.  Top back-ups at ILB include RFr. Bruce Taylor (1 tackle) and RFr. Lyndell Gibson.  Taylor has been slowed by an ankle injury, and is probable for Saturday's game.

DB: The Hokies' secondary has been pretty strong at the corners, but safety play has left something to be desired.  They'll face the best passing team they've seen to this point on Saturday, and could be without a key starter.  Starting at cornerback is Sr. Stephan Virgil (9 tackles, 1 FR) at boundary corner and Jr. Rashad Carmichael (6 tackles, 2 QBH, 2 PBU) at field corner.  Virgil is very fast, doesn't miss many tackles and is a ball hawk.  He is struggling with a minor knee injury and is listed as probable for Saturday's game.  Carmichael is also a speedy corner, has been used in corner blitzes, and has been pretty solid against the pass.  Top reserves include So. Eddie Whitley (5 tackles, 1 PBU), So. Cris Hill (1 tackle), and TFr. Jayron Hosley (2 tackles, 1 PBU).  If Virgil is unable to go, look for Carmichael to switch over to boundary, while Whitley or Hill will assume the top spot at field corner.  Starting at free safety is Sr. Kam Chancellor (9 tackles), with So. Eddie Whitley (5 tackles, 1 PBU) also serving as his top back-up.  Chancellor has the size to be a good safety (6'4"), but just hasn't seemed to put it all together yet.  He is not exactly the fastest guy you'll see on the field, and is susceptible to giving up the big pass down the middle.  Still, he is a hard hitting safety that can be pretty good, albeit inconsistent.  At rover is Sr. Darian Porch (8 tackles, 1 PBU), while Jr. Davon Morgan (1 tackle) backs him up.  Porch is a pretty solid tackler that has good football smarts and when he does get beaten, has good speed to recover quickly.  

Virginia Tech Special Teams

Virginia Tech's special teams units are the calling card of the Hokie football team, often referred to as "Beamer Ball".  This year, they have looked good in most areas, save for the coverage teams, which were not very good in the opener.  Alabama was able to reel off some big ones against Tech.  The Hokies currently rank 27th in net punting (39.55 yd avg), 20th in kickoff returns (28.33 yd avg), 14th in punt returns (19.80 yd avg), 46th in kickoff coverage (19 yd avg), and 63rd in punt coverage (8.17 yd avg).  

K: Sr. Matt Waldron has made 2 of his 2 field goal attempts with a long of 28 this season.  He won't likely be attempting a lot of 50+ yard field goals, but he is very accurate at short to medium range kicks.  So. Justin Myer is the kickoff specialist and has pushed 2 of his 14 kickoffs for a touchback with an average of 62.7 yards.  He has a slightly stronger leg than Waldron and the battle for the top placekicking spot was pretty competitive during the fall.

P: Sr. Brent Bowden is one of the best punters in the ACC.  He is averaging 45.8 yards on his 11 punts with a long of 57this season.  4 of his 11 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20.

KR/PR: The top kickoff return unit for the Hokies is So. Dyrell Roberts (4 kick returns, 48.8 yd avg, 98 yd long, 1 TD) and TFr. David Wilson (2 kick returns, 7.5 yd avg, 12 yd long).  Roberts has been excellent, does a good job of finding a seam, and takes off.  Jr. Davon Morgan (3 kick returns, 15 yd avg, 21 yd long) and So. Cris Hill are other possibilities to return kickoffs.  The top punt return man is TFr. Jayron Hosley (4 punt returns, 24.8 yd avg, 64 yd long, 1 TD), while TFr. David Wilson could also field punts this season.  As a team, the Hokies lost 2 fumbled returns to Alabama in their opener.  

Coverage: The Hokies' kick and punt coverage units held Marshall in check last week, but had many problems against Alabama the week prior.  The kick coverage unit is allowing an average of 19 yards on 12 kickoff return attempts, with a long of 29.  The punt coverage unit is allowing an average of 8.2 yards on 6 punt return attempts, with a long of 15.  

Nebraska Offense

Nebraska's offense has looked pretty solid after two games, however, haven't played consistently for 60 minutes.  Nebraska currently ranks 19th nationally in total offense (492 ypg), 17th in passing (294 ypg), 12th in pass efficiency (173.13 rating), 37th in rushing (197.50 ypg), 10th in scoring offense (43.50 ppg), 22nd in interceptions thrown (1), 1st in fumbles lost (0), and 7th in giveaways (1).  

QB: Jr. Zac Lee (42 for 57, 553 yds, 6 TDs, 1 INT) has been one of the better performing quarterbacks in the nation, despite only having two starts under his belt.  He has been impressive, completing 73.70% of his passes and holding a 186.41 efficiency rating.  Rarely is a pass off the mark, and he's shown that he can make every throw on the field.  He tends to lock onto his target and telegraphs his throws, but it hasn't really hurt him to this point . He has good speed and is able to escape pressure in the backfield and also pick up yards in designed run plays.  Time will tell if he can perform at this same high level against better defenses.  Behind Lee are TFr. Cody Green (5 for 9, 36 yds) and Jr. LaTravis Washington.  Green joined the team in January, and has a lot of potential to be a solid dual-threat QB.  He can run well, and has shown a very strong arm.  He had two passes dropped last week that hurts his numbers.  Washington has a strong arm with good speed, but he has not made the strides that Green has in the same amount of time.

RB: Nebraska's running backs are led by Jr. Roy Helu Jr. (30 carries, 212 yds, 3 TDs).  Helu Jr. has a great combination of hard running, leaping, and cutting ability.  He can beat defenders by running around them, by them, and over them.  He has really turned into the complete back over the past season.  Behind Helu Jr. is TFr. Rex Burkhead (12 carries, 57 yds, 1 TD), an impressive, young back that is a solid second option.  RFr. Lester Ward (1 carry, 8 yds), So. Marcus Mendoza (1 carries, -1 yds), and So. Austin Jones (1 carry, 2 yds) are also possibilities to see carries in the backfield.  Mendoza has excellent speed, but doesn't have the strength yet to be an every down player.  There's potential in the reserve group, but not much proven yet.  Nebraska likes to throw the ball to their backs, and will a bigger part of the offense as the season moves along.  Helu Jr. (5 catches, 47 yds) and  Burkhead (2 catches, 20 yds) have caught passes, with Helu Jr. catching all 5 of his passes in last week's game.  At fullback, RFr. Tyler Legate is the top guy and got his first career touchdown last week by way of a 3 yard pass reception.  The FB doesn't see much time with the ball for Nebraska, so that touchdown was a rarity.    

WR/TE: Nebraska's receiving corps played much better last week than in the opener, however, there is still room to improve.  They need to work harder to get open, and no matter what the situation, not drop passes delivered directly to their hands.  Starting at "Z" is Jr. Niles Paul (8 catches, 82 yds, 1 TD).  Last week, he started looking like the high caliber player the coaches touted him as in fall camp.  In addition to receiving, he was used on a reverse last week that went for a 30 yard touchdown.  Starting at "X" will be Sr. Menelik Holt (8 catches, 85 yds, 1 TD), who has great size as well as speed.  He can turn into a great target with more consistency.  Reserves include So. Curenski Gilleylen (5 catches, 135 yds, 1 TD), Sr. Chris Brooks (3 catches, 45 yds), Jr. Brandon Kinnie (1 catch, 5 yds), TFr. Antonio Bell, RFr. Khiry Cooper (1 catch, 6 yds), Jr. Will Henry, and Sr. Wes Cammack.  Gilleylen is a speedster and has developed into Nebraska most dangerous deep threat.  Brooks will play mostly in the slot, and should be a solid contributor to finish his career.  Kinnie and Cooper are two exciting young players that could work their way up as the season moves forward.  Henry is a big body (6'5") and if he puts it all together, could be an excellent threat.  Nebraska's top TE is Jr. Mike McNeill (8 catches, 108 yds, 2 TDs), with So. Dreu Young (1 catch, 27 yds), So. Ryan Hill (1 catch, 7 yds), RFr. Ben Cotton (2 catches, 10 yds), and RFr. Kyler Reed (1 catch, 9 yds) competing behind McNeill.  McNeill does a nice job of picking up yards after catch, as well as getting open in the endzone.  Reed is also being used as a HB this season, as the coaches are looking to get his skills onto the field.  This is a deep and talented group of tight ends that is a big strength for the Huskers' offense.

OL: Nebraska's offensive line has been pretty average in their first two games of the season.  There isn't much play-to-play consistency.  Starting at tackle is Jr. Mike Smith (6'6", 295 lbs) on the left and So. Marcel Jones (6'7", 310 lbs) on the right.  Smith was a part-time starter in 2008, and has a history of back problems.  It is critical for him to stay healthy.  Jones is the largest of the linemen, and has great potential to be a rock on the right side.  Jr. D.J. Jones (6'5", 315 lbs) is listed as a co-starter with Marcel Jones and will remain that way until the coaches find the right chemistry with the line.  Starting at left guard is Jr. Keith Williams (6'5", 315 lbs), while Jr. Ricky Henry (6'4", 300 lbs) starts at right guard.  Williams is a great blocker, and should continue to improve.  Henry is a player known for his strength and his nasty streak.  Sr. Andy Christensen (6'3", 305 lbs) and Sr. Derek Meyer (6'5", 315 lbs) are Nebraska's top reserves at guard.  Christensen is a former starter that missed last season mostly due to a suspension.  Sr. Jacob Hickman (6'4", 290 lbs) starts at center, with So. Mike Caputo (6'1", 275 lbs) backing him up.  Hickman is the leader of the group, but isn't necessarily a dominant center.  

Nebraska Defense

Nebraska's defense has been inconsistent in their two games, and is having a difficult time with the run game.  Poor tackling and playing high has been an issue as well.  Nebraska is currently ranked 50th nationally in total defense (321 ypg), 48th in pass defense (183.50 ypg), 24th in pass efficiency defense (94.78 rating), 69th in rush defense (137.50 ypg), 7th in scoring defense (6 ppg), 33rd in interceptions (2), 33rd in fumbles recovered (2), and 37th in total takeaways (4).

DL: Nebraska's defensive line hasn't been the dominant group they were expected to be coming into the season.  The front four has spent too much time getting pushed around, getting lost in the play.  It can be hard to tell at times when they are supposed to rush the passer or fill gaps, but they just haven't played with the intensity they need to, especially for 60 full minutes.  Starting at defensive end is Jr. Pierre Allen (7 tackles, 2 QBH, 1 PBU) on the right, with Sr. Barry Turner (5 tackles, 1 FR, 4 QBH) on the left.  Allen has been decent, but isn't playing as well as he did a season ago.  Turner was better last week than he was in the opener, but still doesn't seem to have that first step he did before the broken leg he suffered a year ago.  RFr. Cameron Meredith (2 tackles, 1 FR, 1 QBH) and RFr. Josh Williams (2 tackles) are the top reserves at defensive end.  Meredith has played pretty well in his back-up role and could see more time if the starters continue to struggle.  Starting at nose tackle is Sr. Ndamukong Suh (12 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 QBH, 1 PBU), with So. Terrence Moore backing him up.  Suh is an elite tackle that has a motor that doesn't quit, flies to the ball and forces turnovers.  He's played better than the other three starters, but needs to show more play-to-play consistency.  So. Jared Crick (8 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 QBH, 1 BLK) starts at defensive tackle, with RFr. Baker Steinkuhler (8 tackles) providing back-up.  Crick is counted on to make plays with Suh being doubled up, and he has done a decent job of that.  At times, he is explosive, but not at a consistent rate.  

LB: Nebraska's linebacking corps is full of young players that needs to perform at a higher level if the Huskers are to improve their rush defense.  They have been decent, at best, in the first two games with a number of miscues.  Their tackling form isn't great, as they tackle high, and they were also missing tackles this past week.  Starting this week at weakside linebacker is expected to be Sr. Phillip Dillard.   Dillard is a former starter at MLB that didn't even play in the first two games, but this week has been working with the top unit in practice.  Jr. Blake Lawrence (10 tackles) has been the starter this year, but was not great, which may have led to Dillard being moved over.  So. Matthew May (2 tackles) was listed as a co-starter with Lawrence, but has been bothered by a minor injury.  Starting at middle linebacker is RFr. Will Compton (8 tackles, 1 PBU), while Sr. Colton Koehler (2 tackles) is the top reserve.  Compton works hard to get after the ball carrier, but is still learning the defense and makes mistakes.  Starting at buck linebacker is RFr. Sean Fisher (8 tackles), with TFr. Eric Martin (4 tackles) and RFr. Micah Kreikemeier providing back-up.  Fisher stands at 6'6", and like Compton, will get better each week as they learn how to quickly read and react to the opposing offense.  Martin has the ability to be a force for the Huskers, when he gets the mental aspect of the game down to match his physicality, watch out.

DB: Nebraska's defensive backfield has been fair in their first two games.  They aren't giving up huge numbers, but they aren't exactly a "shut down" group either.  They were burned a couple of times last week to Arkansas State.  Jr. Prince Amukamara (13 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 2 PBU) starts at LCB, with Jr. Dejon Gomes (2 tackles) and TFr. Andrew Green listed as the top reserves.  Amukamara has been pretty solid, but dropped an easy pick last week that led to points for ASU.  Jr. Anthony West (2 tackles, 1 PBU) starts at RCB, with So. Alfonzo Dennard (3 tackles) listed as a possible co-starter, and So. Lance Thorell (1 tackle, 1 PBU) is a reserve that will see time.  West has been average, and needs to play more with his head on a swivel.  Nebraska will need more consistency from the corners this season if they are to have a successful season.  At strong safety is Sr. Larry Asante (15 tackles, 1 FF, 2 PBU) starts, with Jr. Eric Hagg (3 tackles, 1 sack, 1 QBH) and RFr. P.J. Smith (2 tackles) backing him up.  Asante has great athleticism, and is also a big hitter, forcing a fumble last week.  Hagg is used often as a blitzing safety, and also as a nickel back.  Sr. Matt O'Hanlon (10 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF) and Sr. Rickey Thenarse (10 tackles, 1 FF) are listed as co-starters at free safety.  O'Hanlon was burned at least once last week on a pass, and missed a couple of tackles as well.  O'Hanlon and Thenarse both need to show improvement as well as consistency this season.  

Nebraska Special Teams

Nebraska's special teams units have been pretty average through 2 games.  There is excellent talent, but the numbers aren't where they should be just yet.  The Huskers rank 86th in net punting (33.50 yd avg), 32nd in kickoff returns (25.50 yd avg), 66th in punt returns (7.75 yd avg), 18th in kickoff coverage (16.14 yd avg), and 50th in punt coverage (6 yd avg).

K: Jr. Alex Henery has one of the strongest and most accurate legs in the nation.  He has made 1 of his 2 attempts this season, with a long of 26.  His miss was from 54 yards out, pushing it wide right.  Jr. Adi Kunalic has a booming leg, and is one of the best kickoff specialists in the nation.  Kunalic has pushed 7 of 15 kickoffs for touchback last week, with an excellent 69.2 yard average.  

P: Jr. Alex Henery has averaged 40.4 yards on his 5 punts with a long of 49 this season.  3 of his 5 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20.  He has added punting duties to his repertoire this season, and did a much better job last week than in the opener.  
KR/PR: Nebraska's top kickoff return unit is made up of Jr. Niles Paul (4 returns, 25.5 yd avg, 32 yd long), and So. Alfonzo Dennard.  Others expected to possibly return kicks this season are So. Curenski Gilleylen, TFr. Rex Burkhead, and TFr. Antonio Bell.  At punt returner is Jr. Niles Paul (3 returns, 5.7 yd avg, 10 yd long).  TFr. Rex Burkhead (1 return, 14 yd avg, 14 yd long) and RFr. Tim Marlowe could also see time returning punts.  The return units have been fair through two games, and should get stronger as they get more opportunities.

Coverage: Nebraska's coverage teams have looked much improved through two games, and seems to have fixed some of the sloppy tackling issues they had a year ago.  The kick coverage unit is allowing an average of 17.6 yards on 8 kickoff returns, while the punt coverage unit is allowing an average of 6.0 yards on 4 punt returns.    

Unit Match-Ups

Nebraska's Offense vs. Virginia Tech's Defense

Nebraska's offense has had sequences of hot and cold in their first two games this season.  They came out of the gates last week against Arkansas State on fire, as QB Zac Lee was on the mark for pretty much every throw.  It was a performance that has started getting Lee some national attention.  Completing 77% of your passes tends to do that for you.  In his first two games as a starter, Lee has wowed the home crowd with his ability to make pretty much every throw on the field.  The fact that he is a legit mobile threat adds another dimension for opposing defenses to deal with.  If you commit too many men to coverage, he'll scramble and pick up yards.  If you load up the box, he has a quick enough release to make you pay.  While he hasn't played against the best pass defenses in the nation, Arkansas State provided a good test with their high level of athleticism.  Nebraska passed this test, putting up big numbers in the first half before seemingly phoning it in for the second half.  They'll need to put 60 minutes of effort forth against Virginia Tech.  The Hokies' defense have allowed their opponents to complete 49.2% of their passes this season, while Zac Lee, is completing 73.7% of his attempts on the year.   
Nebraska's receivers were much better in week two, as there really weren't any drops by the top groupings.  14 different Nebraska players caught passes last week against Arkansas State, showing the depth and skill they have at receiver, tight end, as well as at running back.  WR Niles Paul had his coming out party, scoring on the ground as well as through the air.  He would have had a third score, but a 70 yard touchdown reception was called back to do a careless holding penalty.  Nebraska was able to pick on a small ASU secondary that averaged a height of 5'11.5".  The Hokies' defensive backs are also somewhat small (3 of 4 are 5'11"), except for 6'4" SS Kam Chancellor.  Chancellor has been a weak point in the secondary this season, having trouble keeping up with speedy receivers.  Watch for Nebraska to attempt to exploit him and the Hokies' young linebackers with their talented tight ends as well as the lightning fast Curenski Gilleylen deep.  One potential major blow to the Virginia Tech d-backfield is if Stephan Virgil can't go, or isn't full speed.  He's the top playmaker in the group and will be sorely missed against a high quality passing attack.  In pass coverage, the Hokies' secondary ranks pretty highly (27th), allowing a rating of just 98.73, while Nebraska's QB Zac Lee ranks 7th nationally in pass efficiency (186.41).  If Lee has good pass protection, watch for him to give the Hokies all they can handle.

Nebraska's running game hasn't been as impressive as it should have been on-paper.  The talent is definitely there in the backfield with running backs Roy Helu Jr., and Rex Burkhead.  Both can be dynamic runners, with Helu having shown his abilities in week 1 against Florida Atlantic as well as throughout 2008.  Helu wasn't great last week against Arkansas State, some of that was due to a very solid front 7 of the Red Wolves getting the best of the Nebraska offensive line at times.  Overall though, it wasn't Helu's best effort, and viewers should be expected to see him pick up his game this week.  Helu, when at his best, makes big plays out of nothing by breaking tackles and making people miss.  Burkhead is a hard runner that can also finesse his way through the open field.  He hasn't had many opportunities to showcase his open field skills to this point, but when he does, he'll be explosive.  Add to this mix, that QB Zac Lee is a very good scrambler, and Nebraska can be a very imposing running team, if the offensive line consistently cooperates.  
Virginia Tech's rush defense has not been very good this season, and it wasn't just yards given up in the second half to Alabama.  The Hokie defense gave up 5.5 yards per carry to the Crimson Tide in the opener, and then allowed a poor Marshall team 4.5 yards per carry last week.  The defensive front four isn't really built to stuff the run, rather puts a premium on rushing the passer.  The linebackers will get a bulk of the tackles, but did have some issues with sloppy tackling in the Alabama game late, as they were starting to wear down.  The Hokies did a good job in shutting down Nebraska's run game last year, but they have 3 new starters in that front seven, which seems to have had more of an impact than many thought.  Nebraska is a much better as a team than last year, so many of last year's statistics are pretty moot.  Nebraska's success, or lack thereof, will be in the hands of the blockers up front.  

Focusing on third downs and red zone play, Nebraska is converting an excellent 52.17% of their third downs (20th nationally), and scoring on 100% of red-zone opportunities (7 TDs, 1 FGs) (1st nationally).  The Hokies' defense are allowing their opponents to convert on 32.35% of their third downs (49th nationally), and have allowed those opponents to score on 70% of their red-zone chances (3 TDs, 4 FGs) (38th nationally).  

Sizing up the lines, Nebraska's average offensive lineman is 6'5", 300 lbs, while Virginia Tech's average defensive lineman is 6'2", 272 lbs.  Nebraska's best guard, Keith Williams needs to stay healthy for the Huskers to have success running between the tackles.  There is a pretty big drop-off when Derek Meyer is in the game.  On the season, Nebraska has averaged 6.6 yards per carry while Virginia Tech is giving up 5.1 yards per carry.  Nebraska left tackle Mike Smith will be matched up against Virginia Tech stud end Jason Worilds.  This will be the key match-up to watch, especially on passing downs.  Worilds did a nice job against Smith last year, but now that Smith has a year of starting under his belt, it should be a tighter match-up.  Nebraska's tackles did a great job last week of keeping Arkansas State's all-star DE Alex Carrington away from Lee for nearly the entire game, so we'll see how different things go this week.  Nebraska has allowed 2 sacks and 5 tackles for loss on the year, while Virginia Tech has picked up 3 sacks and 15 tackles for loss in their two games this season.  

Virginia Tech's Offense vs. Nebraska's Defense

Virginia Tech QB Tyrod Taylor hasn't had a great start to the season.  His passes have not been crisp, and even the best balls he's thrown have been wobbly and low.  But, a couple of those wobbly passes were well placed and scored a pair of touchdowns last week against Marshall.  What makes that notable is that it was the first time Taylor had ever thrown more than one touchdown pass in a single game.  That might not be much of a surprise, though, when you consider that he has been splitting time with Sean Glennon the past two years and is in his first season as "the guy".  He is, of course, known as an elusive runner rather than a guy with great pocket presence.  One thing his talents do is make defenses respect him enough that you can't put everyone out in coverage.  If Taylor could somehow figure out how to improve his throwing accuracy, he could develop into a nice dual-threat QB, but until he does, he's still mostly an athlete playing QB.  Despite that, he gets the job done for the most part, and is 14-3 as a starter.  He caused problems for Nebraska last year, throwing for over 171 and rushing for 87 more.  However, that was against a defense that was still getting a hold of then-new Coach Bo Pelini's defensive schemes.  It could be different on Saturday, time will tell.  Through two games, Taylor is completing just 50% of his passes, while Nebraska's defense is allowing their opponents' quarterbacks to complete just 50.8% of their passes this season.   
Virginia Tech's receivers are loaded with youth.  In fact, there isn't one upperclassman in their top 8 split ends and flankers.  There's talent in the group, and most of these guys have a lot of experience from a year ago.  Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale are the most consistent and most seasoned, but players like Xavier Boyce and Dyrell Roberts can make some noise as well, provided that a pass comes their way.  Coale was used in an end-around against Alabama that picked up just 5 yards.  The Hokies didn't attempt a reverse in the Marshall game.  The passing game hasn't been one with much fire, averaging just 6.5 yards per completion.  
Nebraska's pass defense has been pretty good in their first two games, but not great.  They gave up 236 yards in the opener against Florida Atlantic, but all of those yards were between the 20's and didn't do much on the scoreboard.  Arkansas State isn't a pass heavy team, and for the most part, was held in check.  There are still a couple of concerns about missed tackles and an occasional blown coverage, but it should get better as the season moves along.  In pass coverage, the Huskers' secondary ranks 24th, allowing a rating of just 94.78, while Virginia Tech's QB Tyrod Taylor ranks 73rd nationally in pass efficiency (121.58).  

Virginia Tech found their offense last week against Marshall, as they scorched the field on the ground for 444 yards.  RB's Ryan Williams and David Wilson put on a clinic as they shredded the Thundering Herd's defense time and time again.  Both of these backs are lightning fast and showed big time ability last week.  It was a definite improvement after rushing for just 64 yards against Alabama the week prior.  The question is to what extent Marshall made this unit look better than they really are.  Certainly, this is a good rushing team, but 444 yards doesn't come around often on the ground.  Oglesby is another Tech runner that will take carries, but presents more of a power game than the homerun threat the other two do.  Williams and Wilson were each able to pick up a first down and more nearly every time they touched the ball.  If these two prove they are the real deal week in and week out, throw in rushing abilities of QB Tyrod Taylor and that is a lot for a defense to account for.   Against Marshall last week, the backfield was incredibly successful utilizing the zone-read option, as well as running multiple misdirection plays.  
Nebraska's rush defense hasn't been as stingy as they should be, allowing 3.6 yards per rush to Florida Atlantic and Arkansas State.  ASU has an excellent running attack, even though they are "just" a Sun Belt team with plenty of speed and managed 3.8 yards per carry.  That's not necessarily a terrible number, but considering Nebraska's defensive front four is supposed to be a dominant unit, it wasn't what they wanted.  Part of the problem is the youth at linebacker.  Many times they tend to just run into the heels of the linemen and hesitate just a moment and aren't able to make the tackle.  Two of the starters are redshirt freshmen, so it's to be expected, but improvement will still need to be made for Virginia Tech this week.  The front four will play their gaps fine, but it is the linebackers that need to follow suit and not allow themselves to get pushed around.  Former starter at MLB, Phillip Dillard is back into the discussion this week, and is very likely to start at WLB.  He brings a physicality the two freshmen haven't yet developed.  He hasn't played this year, though, so it'll be interesting to see how he starts off.  If nothing else, he brings some much needed big game experience to the crew.   

Looking at how these teams perform on third downs and red-zone opportunities, Virginia Tech has converted an abysmal 26.09% of their third downs (102nd nationally), with a 71% red-zone scoring average (3 TDs, 2 FGs) (89th nationally).  This has to be a concern for VT, as even against the likes of Marshall they converted just 36% of their third downs.  Nebraska's defense is allowing their opponents to convert 32% of their 3rd down attempts (44th nationally), and has allowed them a 67% red-zone scoring percentage (1 TD, 1 FG) (22nd nationally) this season.  

Up front, Virginia Tech's average offensive lineman is 6'3.6", 305 lbs, while Nebraska's average defensive lineman comes in at 6'4.5", 279 lbs.  The trenches will be interesting to watch, in relation to how well Nebraska can plug up the running lanes, and how well Virginia Tech can keep pressure away from QB Tyrod Taylor.  On the season, the Hokies have allowed 16 tackles for loss and 8 sacks, while the Huskers picked up 11 tackles for loss, and 4 sacks.  Virginia Tech's offensive line looked much better in their second game than in their first, but most of that was due to level of competition as Marshall is quite a few notches below Alabama.  Nebraska's defensive line was also better in their second game, which bodes well, considering that Arkansas State is a better team than Florida Atlantic this season.  Both lines will need to continue to get better this week, and the unit that gets the better of the other will go a long way in helping their team get a win.  The main match-up to watch will be how the Virginia Tech sophomore guard Jaymes Brooks handles Nebraska's All-American NT Ndamukong Suh.  

Keys to the Game

1.) Balance - Not only does QB Zac Lee need to be good in his first road start since his JUCO days 3 years ago, but the running game needs to be potent.  Roy Helu Jr. and Rex Burkhead need to have a good day, which will help Lee as well.
2.) Keep Containment on QB Tyrod Taylor - Nebraska did a good job against ASU dual-threat Corey Leonard last week, but Taylor has better wheels.  Taylor is comfortable when he can run around.  If Nebraska can neutralize that for the most part, they'll really slow down that VT offense.
3.) Eliminate Miscues - VT's special teams are going to bring heat when punting, and they have some ball hawking defenders.  These mistakes cost Nebraska a year ago, and this year must be cleaner.

Virginia Tech:
1.) QB Tyrod Taylor Has to Perform - If he has another day like he did against Alabama, it's going to be a challenge to score.  The running game might be good, but without a threat of a capable passing attack, Nebraska will bear down on that run game.
2.) Play Keep Away - It's no secret that Nebraska's offense is more prolific than VT's, so if they can get the ground game going, shortening the game will help the Hokies keep the score down.
3.) Get Pressure on NU QB Zac Lee - It's his first road game as the NU starter.  Get after him and force him to hurry his decisions and throws, this could create some turnovers for the Hokies.

Position Advantages:
Position / Advantage
QBs: Nebraska
RBs: Virginia Tech
WR/TE's: Nebraska
OL: Even
DL: Even
LB: Even
DB: Even
Special Teams: Virginia Tech
Coaching: Even

Injury Report

QB - Kody Spano - Knee - Out for Season

Virginia Tech:
LB - Bruce Taylor - Ankle - Probable
CB - Stephan Virgil - Knee - Probable
TE - Greg Boone - Chest - Probable
FB - Kenneth Jefferson - Suspension - Probable
RB - Darren Evans - Knee - Out for season

Final Outlook

Saturday marks the third meeting between Virginia Tech and Nebraska.  The series is tied at one game each.  The last meeting between the two teams was an early season game last year in Lincoln.  Virginia Tech fought off a second half Nebraska comeback to hold on to a 35-30 victory.  The difference in the game was that Nebraska turned the ball over twice, while Virginia Tech did not turn the ball over.  Virginia Tech was able to shut down Nebraska's ground game a year ago, something Nebraska hopes will be better this year.  Neither team was ranked for that match-up, which has changed for this season, as both teams are in the top 20.  If you like to look at streaks, this is a good match-up for that, as both teams have some interesting ones that are currently active.  Nebraska has not defeated a top 15 team in the opponents' house since September 20th, 1997, when they defeated Washington 27-14.  Hard to believe, considering that Tom Osborne was still the coach of the Huskers at the time.  Virginia Tech has won 31 straight home games against non-conference opponents, however, only 3 of those were against ranked opponents.  The Hokies have also lost 3 straight home games against top 25 opponents.

Virginia Tech is entering this game with a (1-1) record.  The Hokies were in the game with Alabama until late in the fourth, and actually led for a while before Alabama's running game took over.  The Crimson Tide went on to win by a score of 34-24.  Virginia Tech's defense seemed a bit worn down in the fourth quarter, and allowed Alabama to slash through their defense on the ground and through the air.  You can't deny that Virginia Tech has scheduled some good teams in their non-conference this year.  Last week, however, was their slam dunk.  A game against an overmatched Marshall team last week led to a 52-10 thrashing via a strong rushing attack for Tech.  The Hokies went from playing against possibly the best rush defense in the nation to playing the worst, and it has led to a lot of excitement about Tech's rushing attack. They'll play a good defensive team this week, not at Alabama's level but still good, so it should give everyone an idea of where Virginia Tech truly is as an offense.

Nebraska enters this week's game with a record of (2-0) after playing a pair of Sun Belt foes.  Their opener, against Florida Atlantic, a team expected to contend for the SBC crown this season, was a 49-3 blowout.  It wasn't close to a perfect game, but Nebraska was impressive, keeping the Owls' hot passing attack away from the endzone.  Last week, they played a team that was my pre-season favorite to win the Sun Belt, Arkansas State.  ASU brought in a high powered rushing attack and possessed three great backs as well as a very good dual-threat QB.  Nebraska was able to stop them enough to garner a 38-9 victory.  The game was a bit of a disappointment for Nebraska, as they seemed to lose their edge after gaining a big lead at half-time.  Nebraska will need to show they have the focus to keep the pedal down for 60 minutes.  They have the conditioning, but they need to show they also have the will.  Virginia Tech will provide that challenge, as Nebraska will have to go hard for a full 60.

There's a lot we still need to learn about these two teams, and hopefully a few questions will be answered on Saturday.  Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said in his press conference that he believes Nebraska is "back", but that was nothing more than coach speak and not wanting to give anybody bulletin board material.  Nebraska is working their way back to becoming a perennial power again, but they haven't won a game of consequence in years.  Until they do, they're not where they want to be.  Beating the Hokies on the road would go a long way to the earn respect of those in and around college football.  Virginia Tech had national championship aspirations at the beginning of the season, and is technically still in the picture, but a loss on Saturday would all but destroy those dreams.

The big difference that has been seen between these two teams so far this season is that Nebraska possesses a strong, balanced offense, while Virginia Tech again appears to be very one-dimensional, lacking a respectable passing game.  The Hokies have pretty good talent at receiver, but so far, they haven't been consistently hooking up with QB Tyrod Taylor for chunks of yards.  Nebraska's secondary isn't the best you'll see, but they seem to be progressing week-to-week and have good athletes back there.  Taylor needs to be good in the passing game, but not necessarily great to put his team in position to win.  The main question for Nebraska's defense is at linebacker, and with the return of Senior Phillip Dillard, it should make the group better as a whole.  They'll need to be if Hokie TE Greg Boone is back for this week's game.  Nebraska's QB Zac Lee has the full arsenal.  Not only can he make every throw on the field, but he has good pass protection, and very good looking receivers and tight ends.  If Virginia Tech corner Stephan Virgil isn't ready to go, it doesn't bode well for a secondary that showed to be susceptible to big passing plays against Alabama, and that was when Vigil was healthy.  Lee has certainly looked like the real deal at QB for the Huskers so far, and if he gets time to throw, he will have a great day.

While the Hokies may not be able to match Nebraska's passing game, they do have what appears to be a great rushing attack.  The Hokies ran the ball all over the Marshall defense last week, and are hoping that wasn't only a product of playing a weak, overmatched opponent.  They'll certainly find out this week against a Nebraska defense that has shown some troubles against the run in their first two games.  Whatever ends up being the case, Virginia Tech has some very good Freshman running backs and they'll be a force for years to come on the ground.  Nebraska's running attack can be good when they commit to it.  Roy Helu Jr. is one of the best backs that most have never heard of, and could help put his name out there with a nice day.  Virginia Tech hasn't been great against the run this year, and they'll need to do better than their average of giving up 5.1 yards per carry to win.

Often times, close games come down to special teams, and both teams have good units.  "Beamer Ball" may not be exactly what it was a few years ago, but they do have a good blocking team, some elusive returners, and a very good punter in Brent Bowden.  Nebraska has one of the nation's best kickers in Alex Henery that is pulling double duty and becoming a good punter as well.  If you had to say one team's unit was better than the other, then the nod would probably go to Virginia Tech by a very slim margin.  Not enough, though, that it would be a difference in who wins this game.

Overall, this should be a great, great game.  Both defenses are pretty good, but neither is dominant.  Meanwhile, Nebraska has a better group offensively than Virginia Tech, although the Hokies are not without their own offensive talents.  The Hokies usually play well in Blacksburg, and being Nebraska's first road game of the year, could take them a little while to get comfortable.  For this reason, many will be taking Virginia Tech this weekend.  Virginia Tech's running game will cause problems for Nebraska's defense, but not consistently for four quarters.  When you watch the two games that each team has played, Nebraska just appears to be the more well rounded team.  They aren't loaded with All-Americans, but they play hard and continue to get better each week.  Nebraska's offensive balance will be the difference.  Nebraska by 3-7 points.

Nebraska  - 30
Virginia Tech - 24


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